Tuesday 23 January 2024

CNN’s Tapper Confronts Buttigieg Over East Palestine Train Disaster

 CNN‘s Jake Tapper pressed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the Biden administration’s response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment nearly a year after the toxic disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.

In an exchange that aired on Monday, Tapper asked Buttigieg why calls for a major disaster declaration — including from Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) — that could unlock additional resources such as health screenings to residents are not being heeded by the federal government.

“The Biden administration refuses to do that,” Tapper said. “They say a disaster declaration does not apply because it’s not a natural disaster. They say Norfolk Southern is responsible. So is that disaster declaration still just off the table for these residents who are clearly suffering?”

Buttigieg replied, “Look, leaving aside — I don’t know all the legalities of the emergency management process, I do know what we can do as a department to make sure that railroads are safer. We’ve been taking action on everything from focused inspection of railroads, to making sure that there’s better hazardous material-related regulations, to just investing in better railroad infrastructure.”

Biden issued an executive order in September instructing FEMA to designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator to “oversee long-term recovery efforts in the affected communities and conduct a comprehensive assessment of unmet needs of the affected communities in recovering from the derailment beyond the cleanup work directed by EPA.” A coordinator, Jim McPherson, was appointed later that month. But no disaster declaration.

Tapper also confronted Buttigieg on why Biden has not visited East Palestine since the derailment in early February of 2023 — a question which has been posed to the White House many times over the past year, often answered by statements about how the president was planning to go at some point but did not get around to scheduling it.

Biden “still has not visited East Palestine, Ohio. I don’t know why that is — that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me,” the CNN anchor said. Tapper asked why Biden would not go to East Palestine and “use the bully pulpit” to get bipartisan legislation from Brown and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) to increase railroad safety regulations passed through Congress.

“I don’t have any updates on the scheduling front for the White House but what I can tell you is it shouldn’t take anything more than we’ve already seen happen for Congress to act,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know why we have to persuade anybody to do something that members in both parties claim to care about, which is to make our railroads safer.”

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